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Rodriguez v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

July 23, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         This is a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative decision. Jurisdiction is predicated upon 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both parties having consented to trial on the merits before a United States Magistrate Judge, the case was transferred to this Court for trial and entry of judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule CV-72 and Appendix C to the Local Court Rules for the Western District of Texas.

         Plaintiff appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). For the reasons set forth below, the Court orders that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff applied for both DIB and SSI on August 19, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of March 13, 2013. (R. 337-46). Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on November 10, 2014, and upon reconsideration on March 10, 2015. (R. 220-27, 230-35). An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on August 9, 2016, and a supplemental hearing on December 5, 2017. (R. 107-37, 138-54). The ALJ issued a decision (“Decision”) on December 18, 2017, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 85-99).

         II. ISSUE

         Plaintiff presents the following issue for review: whether “the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff can perform her past relevant work is supported by substantial evidence.” (ECF No. 19, p. 3). Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) finding that plaintiff could perform her past relevant work, which exceeded her residual functional capacity (“RFC”); (2) not resolving a conflict between the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) and the Vocational Expert's (“VE”) opinion; and (3) failing to consider whether Plaintiff possessed transferrable skills. (Id. at 3-6).


         a. Standard of Review

         This Court's review is limited to a determination of whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in evaluating the evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted); Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence “means-and means only-‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). “Substantial evidence ‘is more than a mere scintilla, and less than a preponderance.'” Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272 (citation omitted). The Commissioner's findings will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence. Id. A finding of no substantial evidence will be made only where there is a conspicuous absence of credible choices or no contrary medical evidence. Abshire v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 638, 640 (5th Cir. 1988) (per curiam).

         In applying the substantial evidence standard, the court may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute its own judgment for the Commissioner's, even if it believes the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's decision. Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272. Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner and not the courts to resolve. Id.; Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993).

         b. Evaluation Process

         The ALJ evaluates disability claims according to a sequential five-step process: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment(s) meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing past relevant work; and (5) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Once the claimant satisfies her burden under the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that there is other gainful employment available in the national economy that the claimant is capable of performing. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994). This burden may be satisfied either by reference to the Medical Vocational Guidelines of the regulations, by VE testimony, or by other similar evidence. Fraga v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1296, 1304 (5th Cir. 1987). Once the Commissioner makes the requisite showing at step five, the burden shifts back to the Plaintiff to rebut the finding that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers that the Plaintiff could perform. Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005).

         In the present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of March 13, 2013. (R. 88). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, right knee degenerative joint disease, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, somatic symptom disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and borderline intellectual function. (R. 88). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or ...

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